• Lisa Patti

Reading the last chapter first

When I was designing the table of contents for Writing About Screen Media, I opted to place Holly Willis’ chapter “Writing across the page without a line” at the end of the book. Based on her course “Creative Critical Writing” for the Media Arts + Practice Program in the USC School of Cinematic Arts, Willis’ chapter reveals the importance of centering questions of craft when we teach students how to write about media and hone our own writing practices. In placing her chapter at the end of the book, I imagined it as a critical coda that would remind the reader to experiment with style and form while they experiment with the methods and formats introduced throughout the book. However, after further reflection, I wish that I could move that chapter to the beginning of the book, so that an awareness of critical writing as a creative practice would guide the reader’s first encounters with the other chapters.

Unable to reorganize the book at this point, I am instead using the first post of this blog to encourage readers to read the last chapter of the book first. In her chapter, Willis explains, “I realized that while writing constitutes one of the main activities we engage in as scholars, we devote very little attention to it as a practice and craft within academia. We expect that our students know how to write, and lament when they do not write well. While we might query the structure of an argument and the marshaling of evidence, we rarely attend to emotion and feeling, nor to the poetic implications of words, sentences, punctuation, rhythm, lineation, even the design of the page” (244). Willis’ chapter presents a series of writing prompts from her Creative Critical Writing Workshop that invite writers to identify these poetic implications.

As a preliminary exercise in my senior seminar (a writing-intensive capstone course for undergraduate students in the Media and Society Program at Hobart and William Smith Colleges), I ask students to complete a two-part reflection based on their previous classes. In the first part of the assignment, students select the reading assignment from a previous class that they would most like to re-read now. They then re-read the article or book chapter they have selected and write a short response explaining the ideas that they find most intriguing and the elements of style that they would most like to emulate in their own writing. In the second part of the assignment, students select an essay that they had written for a previous class and re-write one short section of the essay (perhaps the introduction or the conclusion) using the article or book chapter that they re-read as a creative resource. Reading the chapter “Writing across the page without a line” as students complete this early assignment encourages them to explore the “poetic implications of words, sentences, punctuation, rhythm, lineation, even the design of the page.”

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